Mary Lou Sullivan is an award winning author and music journalist whose 30-plus year career began at a dinner with Bruce Springsteen. She has written for dozens of publications in the U.S. and for Classic Rock and The Blues in the U.K.
Her wide array of interviews include B.B. King, Michael Bolton, Joan Rivers, the Ramones, John Sebastian, McCoy Tyner, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Roger McGuinn, Albert Collins, Commander Cody, Kenny Garrett, Rick Derringer, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, John Cale, James Montgomery, Jimmy McGriff, Corky Laing, Billy Joe Shaver, Duke Robillard, Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Al Anderson, Abbie Hoffman, and Chuck E. Weiss.
Sullivan's warmth and engaging manner has gotten more than one interview subject to say, "I can’t believe I told you that." Although she wore a short leather skirt and heels to gain access to Levon Helm's Winnebago, her knowledge about his work with Ronnie Hawkins and with the Swampers in Muscle Shoals Studio earned his respect and a candid interview.
After the publication of her authorized biography of Johnny Winter in 2010, Dan Aykroyd, a.k.a. Elwood Blues, interviewed her for the House of Blues Radio Hour. That interview made a strong impression and resulted in a two-part radio broadcast. Eighteen months later, when Aykroyd was asked about his favorite radio segments during an interview for Blues Revue, he said, "I love talking to the authors of books like Raisin' Cain, the biography of Johnny Winter."
Raisin' Cain - The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter earned popular and critical acclaim, as well as prestigious awards for the quality of her writing and her research. The Blues Foundation in Memphis gave her the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive Award in Literature, and the Association of Recorded Sound Collections gave the book its 2011 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.
When she was looking for a subject for her next biography, another Texas icon caught her eye.
She met Kinky at a show at the Turning Point Café in NY that same year. Immediately struck by his intensity, intelligence, and sense of humor, she researched Kinky's life and liked what she found ─ a larger-than-life Renaissance man with intelligence and street smarts; a serious soul who, despite the one-liners and often self-deprecating sense of humor, had the courage to follow his dreams and live life on his own terms.
Living life on his own terms meant following the advice of his friend Bob Dylan to keep an aura of mystery, so getting Kinky's to agree to a biography was no easy task. Kinky grumbles when asked how it happened, but Sullivan credits it to fate.
He had given her his phone number after the Turning Point Café show. She called once but he didn't return her call, and she didn't think any more about it. When she was in Austin for a job interview at the University of Texas in October, a barista at a Starbucks asked about the photo of her and Kinky in her wallet and told her she was crazy not to call him.
Kinky was charming when she called and impressed that a Connecticut Yankee was not only interviewing at his alma mater, but had references from the UT Dean of Continuing and Innovative Education, and the chief meteorologist at Austin's KVUE-TV.
Sullivan kept in touch with cards and chatty letters before sending a formal letter asking if he wanted her to write a definitive biography. She didn't want to be a nuisance if he wasn't interested, so she suggested he call to set up a time to get together when she was in Austin that April. When six weeks passed without a call, she let it go.
Fate had other plans.
"I had intended to meet a friend after the Willie Nelson statue unveiling, but she had to cancel," Sullivan says. "So I stopped at BookPeople to pick up the latest issue of Texas Music, hung around for Marcia Clark's talk about her new book, and called to check in with my cat sitter. When I walked out the door a couple of hours later, Kinky was standing in front of me, talking to a friend in the parking lot.
"When I smiled and said hi, he responded with a reproachful stare and asked "Do I know you?" His look didn't change when I explained who I was. His close friend Levon Helm had died the day before and I knew he was hurting. So I wasn’t too offended when he told me to call him on Monday and abruptly turned and walked away.
"Kinky was non-committal when we talked that Monday, but I knew he was intrigued. I spent the next two months writing a 42-page book proposal to bring to his show at Café Nine in New Haven, CT. When he finished his tour in July, he called and said let's do it. By fall, I was hanging out with the Kinkster and the Friedmans (his dogs) at his Hill Country ranch, listening to the second greatest story ever told."